Russia’s St Petersburg, the “Venice of the North”, is set to join Paris, New York and Berlin celebrated in the Cities of Love omnibus franchise.

Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily in St Petersburg during the city’s famous White Nights this week, producers Vitaly Eroshenya and Ilya Zofin of Lyceum Production explained that shooting on Saint Petersburg, I Love You is slated to begin in autumn 2014.

Although the producers stress they have not yet signed any concrete deals, initial interest in directing one of the planned 12 short love stories has been expressed by such film-makers as Jaco van Dormael, Sophie Lellouche, Anne Fontaine, Til Schweiger and Dito Tsintsadze.

Eroshenya had made contact with some of the film-makers as the programmer of closed screenings called ¨Cinema With Taste¨ where around 20 people are invited to see interesting new foreign films with the directors attending.

In the case of Schweiger, the German actor-director-producer had shown interest in being involved when asked at a press conference held for one of his films in St Petersburg.

“The actors in the episodes could be foreign and Russian: that will be decided by each director,” Eroshenya explained. ¨I expect the shooting language will be in English and the film will then be dubbed or subtitled for release in Russia.”

Zofin added that they have approached the Russian Ministry of Culture about applying for funding and spoke with the Mayor of Saint Petersburg in May about the possibility of the city providing financial support. 

Seeking French approval

Zofin also confirmed that Saint Petersburg, I Love You would be made in agreement with French producer Emmanuel Benbihy, the creative force behind the Cities Of Love franchise which began with Paris, je t’aime in 2006.

Initially, this strategy had not been followed by the German producers of a Berlin-based omnibus which was originally announced in 2010 as an unrelated project called Love Berlin - How We Met before legal wrangles with Benbihy resulted in a stand-down in February 2012 and an agreement for the film to now be produced as Berlin, I Love You next year.

“We won’t be doing things like [Yegor] Konchalovsky who did not acquire the rights when he made Moscow, I Love You,” Zofin added.

That 18-episode omnibus, which opened the Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival in Sochi in 2010, was a purely Russian affair with the various offspring of the Mikhalkovs, Konchalovskys, Bondarchuks, Ibragimbekovs and Paradjanovs appearing in various functions.

“We want to make an international project with directors from abroad coming to Saint Petersburg to show their personal view of the city,” Zofin and Eroshenya said.

German interest in Van’ka

Zofin, who has lived in Berlin for over 20 years and runs a long-distance haulage company between Asia and Europe, has been looking for a German partner for the feature film Van’ka to be produced by his Berlin-based LM Media and Lyceum Film which he set up with Eroshenya in 2010.

“I have over 50 truck drivers working for me between China, Central Asia and Europe and came on the idea for Van’ka from the stories they told me,” added Zofin.

“I made the journey myself from Almaty to Berlin with one of the Chinese drivers like the character Van’ka and that gave me a new perspective of seeing things through their eyes.

“When I met Dito Tsintsadze [who also lives in Berlin], he was immediately enthusiastic about the story and wanted to direct it. I wrote the screenplay in a month and we have since worked on further drafts together.”

The Rub 35m road movie was first pitched at Kinotavr’s pitching session last month - where Zofin and Eroshenya spoke with German producer Johannes Rexin of Cologne-based Heimatfilm about the project - and then presented a second time last week at the Moscow Co-Production Forum by producer Kirill Lysko.